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OPDO’s Opposition to Afan Oromo – Paranoia or a Scare Tactic?

Posted by Jawar on May 5, 2010

By Jawar Siraj Mohammed*


I listened intently to the Voice of America report about “Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO’s)” opposistion to Medrek’s proposal to make Afan Oromo a federal language.[i] However, I was not shocked by the position as much as I was amazed with the lousy reasons given by certain Mesfin Assefa. I was not shocked because I knew this was coming – it is part of the grand strategy devised by Meles Zenawi to remain in power. I was amazed by how increasingly paranoid the ruling party is becoming. In campaigns, an incumbent party is supposed to bring out its positive accomplishments.

OPDO is using its failures as an excuse to block the well intentioned proposal. In this short piece, I am not going to make a case for making Afan Oromo a national language. That will be done in due time.  I will focus simply on the strategic rationales driving the ruling party’s new position.

1) Failure Is Not an Excuse

[OPDO] says “Afan Oromo, which was established as a written language just two decades ago, hasn’t sufficiently developed to serve as a national working language

First correction; Afan Oromo was not “established” two decades ago, if the statement is referring to it becoming a working language, then  it is also important to note that in  the process of developing a writing system for the Oromo language,  rigorous research was conducted for over a half a century. Intellectuals such as Sheik Bekri Saphalo, Haile Fida and Sheik Mohammed Rashad spent their life time developing and advancing the study of the language.

Nevertheless, how underdevelopment of a language prevents it from becoming nationalized is simply unheard of. I thought linguistic development and nation building are mutually reinforcing and  are supposed be undertaken simultaneously.  But even if we accept this lousy rationale, whose fault is it that the language’s development has stagnated? Wasn’t it the same party that was in power during this period? Unless Mesfin is one of the newly baptized cadres, I am sure he is aware of the hundreds of students who languish in jails across Oromia simply because they demanded the formation of Gumii Dagagiina Afaan Oromoo (Afan Oromo Development Clubs) in their schools.

Does he know that my dear friend Nasir Abdo was tortured until his kidney busted because he was one of the student leaders demanding the formation of such club that could have been instrumental in the development of Oromo language?

Unless OPDO is suffering from amnesia, it should have known that the stagnation of the language is caused by the forced exodus of almost all Oromo linguists. Where are the likes of Abdulsamad Mohammed, Askale Lemma, Tilahun Gemta, Mahadi Hamid Muudee …? During the 1990’s  it  was a  policy of Meles Zenawi and his cronies to eradicate Oromo intellectuals from Oromia under the motto that said, “Hayyoonnii gurguddoon farra dimokraaisiiti” – [Oromo] intellectuals are enemies of democracy. I challenge Mr. Mesfin to dig through the files of his party and find the little yellow book crafted to urge cadres to target intellectuals.

Therefore; OPDO/EPRDF is solely responsible for preventing Afan Oromo from developing in the speed and intensity that it started in early 1990’s. By expelling almost all the intellectuals, weakening the institutions established to standardize the language, and routinely harassing, executing and imprisoning Afan Oromo teachers accusing them of “narrow nationalism”, the regime effectively prevented the development of the language. Now it wants to use its own failure an excuse to prevent further development.
But why is OPDO coming out against this proposal at this time?

2) Fear Mongering Is Meles’s Hallmark
OPDO official, Mesfin Assefa warns that, “such a move [making Afan Oromo a federal language] would create disastrous violence among nations and nationalities in the country.

Once again, how an underdevelopment of a language causes conflict among different nationalities is beyond my comprehension.  Yet the aim of this statement is clear. It is an attempt at scaring the rest of Ethiopians about the coming of Oromo hegemony that will forcefully impose its language on others.
Remember divide and rule has always been the grand strategy of the ruling party. Hence, it must use every opportunity to create rift within the opposition and the electorate and distract them from focusing on their collective campaign. In the past, it was able to use ideology (nationalism) to prevent formation and sustainability of strong adversary.

Now Medrek seems to have made such a strategy obsolete since member parties have made serious compromises to form a consensus based alliance. Hence, the regime is attempting to fabricate and devise new scare tactics. With this particular tactic, the ruling party is trying to appease – both the Oromo and the non-Oromo constituencies, while also pitting them against each other.

First, the ruling party cites the underdevelopment of the language to comfort and promise the Oromo a new era. The message is this; “it is premature to make the language national, we should development it ourselves first”…going even further to formulate a ridiculous suggestion that making Afan Oromo a national at this time will negatively impact development of the language.

Second, the regime would like to scare the non-Oromo population telling them that the language is going to be imposed on them.  It warns that there will be a disastrous ethnic violence. Fear mongering has always been the hallmark for this regime. Any proposal that threatens Meles’s rule is said to lead to genocide and disintegration of the country.

During the last election, when he realized that the opposition was on their way to soundly defeat him, he accused them of planning “interhamwe” against Tigreans. It warned the Oromos about the resurrection of Minilik and reinstitution of the nafxanyaa system. Recently, even the self censoring Voice of America did not escape as the prime minister shameless accused them of inciting genocide.  Since this backfired on him, he is now trying to incite Oromo phobia. The Oromo has no desire to unilaterally impose our language over our brothers and sisters. We know the pain of learning a forcefully imposed language, the trauma is still fresh.

The decision and process of making Afan Oromo a working language of the federal government requires sober discussion and consensus.  Learning Afan Oromo significantly benefits the non-Oromo Ethiopians. In Ethiopia almost 85% of the educated population is employed by the state, and as a matter of fact the vast majority of these jobs are in Oromia. Learning the language, therefore, will only allow the non-Oromo Ethiopians to compete and access these jobs.

However no language should be imposed on anybody without the consent of the people. Neither should fear mongering be used to block proposals. What Medrek has right now is just a proposal.  The merits of this proposal need further public deliberation, consultation and consensus among all stakeholders.

*Jawar S Mohammed writes a regular political commentary on Ethiopian Politics. He can be reached at His article can be accessed at



3 Responses to “OPDO’s Opposition to Afan Oromo – Paranoia or a Scare Tactic?”

  1. Mahbuba said

    OPDOs are a bunch of irresponsible cadres with no autonomy. Meles has scared them to death to the extent that they have forgone their nature given right to think independently. If one cadre starts thinking independently within the OPDO camp he will be strangulated to death with the embarassing ‘qorannoo’. So to speak the ‘qorannoo’ procedure is a weapon for Zenawi to lambast members of the OPDO and ultimately deny them their right to serve in the government. Wouldn’t then a denial of your right to work a major threat that induces you to relinquish your God given power to think independently to carry forward the cause of the Oromo people? Perhaps this is not OPDO’s design but Zenawi’s plan of ‘divide and rule’ as you have nicely illustrated it in your piece. Had Mesfin Asaffa been an old cadre believe me he will never regret for persecuting Oromo intellectuals or for being part of the leadership of the party that is responsible for the under development of Afan Oromo. However, my contention is that is Afan Oromo truly under developed as Zenawi speaks through his mouth pieces in the likes of Mesfin Asaffa? I vehemently reject it. What the heck! Where does Amharic (the language that has been in the public domain since three thousand years as the northerners say) stand? Has it become the language of a rocket science, engineering, physics, computer science or aeronautics? Amharic is only good for Machiavelian politics – one of conspiracy, that of murdering and making your opponents disappear. On the contrary Afan Oromo has never been a language of trouble. No colonial project was carried in this language. It is language of peace (jaarsummaa); it is language of democracy (sirna Gadaa); it is language of love and kindness. If we are talking about Oromo language’s under development in the arts and literature, I will challenge you Jawar that Amharic is not as advanced as we think or if it is, it is because of the contribution of Oromo intellectuals. Recall for the moment the likes of Poet Tsegaye Gebremedhin, Gobana Daniel who writes amazingly (Konjowochu, Yeqahen Meswa’it) Be’alu Girma, etc. So my learned friend we should refrain from orchestrating Zenawi’s single album about the ‘under development of Afan Oromo’. Victory to the oppressed and to those who speak for the subaltern and death to the ethnocrats!!!

  2. Kushi said

    My Friend Jawar, first of all I would like to appreciate all the comments you put stating a brief explanation that could be a lesson for blind people like Masfin.

    It is really shame for people calling themselves as a representative of Oromo people in the country’s politics. I am not sure what kind of analytical power they have. How they call Oromo language is established? language is not a factory. Amharic was a national language in a force since the habasha Zionism controls the entire country through some assistance of the Europeans using some modern weapon. However, in its long life in the power and existence as a working language of the government, nothing has come in a science. It is the same with Afan oromo language that is very young even for academics. To paramount the image of the language and to make the language very rich in literature many intellecutalls have been scrifying themselves since the language is declared as a working language. Thanks to OLF who made the root. Within a short period of time the Language is started to be a language of academic in the high schools and in the University. for Instance it was firstly started to be given for students as a minor in AAU. I would like to Thank Askale Lamma the then Instructor of the Afan Oromo language in AAU. She passed many challenges and maintain the existence of the language in the University. Thanks for those people who pay any thing needed for the existence of the language in the Universities by then. To day, the language is started to be given as a Major subjects in different Universities in the country. Afan Oromo is the largest spoken language in the country. I do not know how the -PDO Cadres do not know this. I know such very shame words comes from the newly baptized cadres for getting a new power that may kicked there ass after some times. Masfine and some other people of the–PDO’s, it is really great shame up on you. You are brining back again what Hileasilase has done on Afan Oromo Language. You, who recently call you self as the representative of Oromo people watch your back and refrain from your stupid fear that never bring changes for the country’s development. These days oromo’s are really aware of every thing. your weapon that you usually used to block his voice never block them. mesfin and some other people who have such blind opinion have to learn more. Or they have to tell us clearly their perfect originality. Please stop canning our people.

  3. ayele adugna alemu said

    pleas you tell or wrote the truth so iwas apprciat your connection is not brok down write aletter for more information.

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